One of the many reasons my wife-to-be questions my sanity is because I love the horror genre. It’s just such a mystical and unique genre with so much possibility, expression and untapped potential that it’s staggering. And dare I say I also love the adrenaline rush it can provide and taking up the challenge of whether anything can actually frighten me.
Sadly for years horror movies in particular have failed to really do that for me. My immense enjoyment of them often came about from watching friends and family cower in fear while I laughed away in a twisted state of glee. It’s just a fun family experience to undertake. But horror movies seldom got a scare out of me even when I watched them alone in the dead of night with my headphones at full volume and a cold air-con for added effect.
Of course like any person they can startle me. An unexpected loud noise can startle anyone. It’s not exactly something that should personify the genre as it doesn’t take much wit to throw loud noises at your audience and hope one lands. It takes ingenuity to deceive and build up to a really good, unexpected jump scare. The kind of intelligence most modern horror films don’t have.
Let it be stated for the record: modern remakes of horror movies are utterly terrible and should be euthenised.
Interestingly though the real breakthrough in my love of horror came when I had a stint in doing Let’s Plays on Youtube for the gaming website I used to write for, EGMR. I started getting seriously into horror games and what I found actually broke all other forms of media in the genre for me, because games offer something no other medium can.
You see a movie is a passive experience and largely in horror films you don’t particularly care for the characters. They’re just lambs to the slaughter. And if you watch enough of these movies you’ll learn more or less when a movie is building up to a jump scare and become somewhat adept at reading the camera angles to see where you are meant to be looking.
In a video game you are the agent in an interactive experience that by virtue has far more of an ‘anything goes’ aspect to it than movies could have. Things only happen when you drive the world forward and the only one keeping you alive is you. Immersion allows you to fear for your own life even if it’s just because you want to beat the game.
It’s a whole other dimension of adrenaline-pumping entertainment.
Sure you can also become adept at the genre after playing enough horror games, but somewhere down the line you’ll always encounter a game that breaks all those conventions you held onto previously and finds new ways to torment you. A fine example would be me thinking hiding away in Outlast was safe like in other games, only for a murderous psychopath to rip open the door to my closet and yank me out. That’s the good stuff.
Games like Silent Hill, P.T, Silent Hill: Shattered Dimensions, Silent Hill: Downpour, Outlast, Slender: The Arrival, Cry of Fear, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and many others awakened a burning passion in me for the genre and gave me such rushes of adrenaline and blood-pumping engagement that I found horror movies no longer had any effect on me.
As a result I started gravitating towards the more creepy or narratively interesting movie concepts, such as the original Nightmare on Elm Street, The Wicker Man and Halloween. The classics if you will. Not because these movies were necessarily scary per se, but they were more intriguing and appropriately creepy. This drove me to other gems like The Conjuring, It Follows, Trick ‘r Treat and The Babadook.
It’s not just the potential for masterfully orchestrated jump scares like the opening of Cry of Fear. It’s not just the total mind-fuck moments that Silent Hill can deliver. It’s not just the sense of sheer dread and demoralising scenarios Outlast puts you through. It’s not just the complete sense of originality and brilliant deceptions that P.T achieves.
It’s more than that.
I’ll use Slender: The Arrival as an example. The game isn’t particularly scary if you’re a horror veteran. But really ‘scary’ is as much a subjective concept as ‘fun’ if you think about it. You can’t guarantee someone will have fun with a game or movie any more than you can guarantee a scare factor.
Everyone is different as it goes.
But what you can do is cleverly and meticulously build an atmosphere through the use of sound, visuals, lighting and immersion. There are some chilling moments in Slender: The Arrival that were so exhilarating and intense that when I took a break from playing after one such section my mother told me that I looked like I’d seen a ghost. I realised it wasn’t at all because I was scared. It was because I had been so immersed in such an intense portion of a game that I’d actually needed a breather.
That has never happened to me in any other form of horror media.
Gore porn doesn’t interest me. Loud noises can startle anyone. I’m more attracted to mystery, intrigue, creep factor, the unknown, suspense and really unique horrors. Sometimes the movies get it right and of course sometimes you don’t particularly want to play a game and just want to enjoy a passive, viewing experience. It’s great to have options.
However playing horror games ultimately ruined movies in the genre for me, or at least my idea of what constituted good horror. And it’s fantastic. My tastes in horror movies and games and ideas of what to look for in either medium changed appropriately as a result, and my love of the genre only intensified. If only I could share some memories with you…
I suppose I will when Outlast 2 releases later this year.